Faery Night ~ A Poem

The night is full of shadowed things

And music that the cricket sings

And softly stepping faery feet

And faery wings so light and fleet.

Parted curtains inside allow

The radiance from the moon’s fair brow

Like insubstantial shards of glass

White beams of moonlight softly pass.

Islets made of motes of dust

That flutter if a breeze should thrust

Them off from their mild lilting course

Playful displays of faery force.

Moonbeams cast a festive glow

On the faeries milling to and fro

Converging for their Moonlight Ball

And dressed in splendour one and all.

Musicians of the faery land

Take their violins in ready hand

And play their mirthful melodies

Fit for the ears of royalty.

A hush of awe runs through the crowd

And faery violins sweet and loud

All cease to watch a newcome fae

Her midnight hair all streaked with grey.

She bears herself with stately pride

On emerald wings she proudly glides

Her gown is fine and apple green

She is the lovely Faery Queen.

A smile pricks at her stately lips

And music sways her stately hips

And faery folk dance with their queen

A merry moonlit heartfelt scene.

As faery dancers start to tire

And toothsome boon they much desire

The queen sends off her serving maiden

To fetch the tables richly laden.

When the maid returns she leads

The bearers of the promised feast

Enchanted tables arranged well

Diffusing a delicious smell.

As they lower to the ground

The faery folk all gather round

To partake of fragrant faery stews

And cakes and breads and lemon chews.

And sumptuous golden faery wine

The goblets bright silver and fine

They dine exchanging faery talk

Above the clatter of the faery forks.

The Moonlight Ball should have no end

But dawn approaches round the bend

And human beings begin to stir

Tis time to part the fae concur.

The Faery Queen gets up to stand

And gives a kind wave of her hand

In sweetest of royal goodbyes

On emerald wings away she flies.

The faery folk follow her lead

Taking off with faery speed

One by one or groups entwined

They leave the moonlight far behind.

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Empty Pages ~ A Poem

Empty pages

Open to the sky

Unmarked and ageless

They bear no mark or line

Their white expanses

Perhaps will one day hold

An epic novel

In text so big and bold

Or perhaps the scrawling

Of a playful child

Or perhaps the poring

Of a scholar mild

Or perhaps they’re destined

To lay so blank and stark

Unwritten always

Until the world goes dark

Or perhaps a faerie

Will find them thus unused

And absently fill them

While she so softly mused

Or perhaps a kitten

His paws all dipped in ink

Across the empty pages

He will so cutely slink

Or perhaps they will be

Swept into a fire

And burn so very brightly

Flaming dance upon the pyre

Or perhaps they have been

Employed all along

To write this very poem

To write this very song

Empty pages

Open to the sky

Their words immortal

For poems never die.

Phyromena ~ One

Leaving

Phyromena Amethystine was confident that her family wouldn’t even notice her absence.

Her parents had just received word from their firstborn daughter. Phyromena’s eldest sister, Ellamarie, was married to a Cyruthan nobleman. Her high marriage was a great pride to her parents, and they frequently corresponded with her by letters. She was a jewel to the Amethystine name.

And there was Phyromena’s second-eldest sister, Jessalaina. Jessalaina was just as beautiful as Ellamarie, and therefore her parents had ambitious plans for her marriage too.

Phyromena, though being the third eldest, of age, and no less lovely than her sisters, was mostly ignored by her parents. She was too rebellious, too outlandish, too accomplished to make a marketable bride.

And this suited Phyromena just fine. She was entirely free to slip out of her own home, leaving only the vaguest of messages with one of the servants.

The only person who noticed her leaving this particular day was her youngest sister, Melystephira.

Melystephira was thirteen years younger than Phyromena. As Phyromena glided into the front garden of the Amethystine Manor, she sat amongst the roses with her kitten and her sister Annatalia, the fourth Amethystine daughter.

Annatalia was ten, and she, along with the rest of her family, was used to Phyromena’s frequent absences, so she barely looked up to see her go.

Melystephira, however, left her kitten to play in the roses and ran to catch up with Phyromena. “Where are you going?” she called demandingly.

Phyromena turned with a smile. “Mel. Don’t worry your pretty head about me. I’m going to spend the winter with our cousin, Commander Nyllortin on Evergale Island.”

Melystephira gazed up at her with big blue eyes. “Take me with you!” she demanded.

Phyromena laughed and tussled her sister’s blond curls. “Nay, child. I cannot.”

Melystephira looked affronted. In the seven short years of her life, she’d become used to getting what she wanted.

But before the golden-haired child could express her displeasure at being denied, Phyromena turned on her heel and sped effortlessly towards her waiting carriage.

Melystephira watched as a servant held the door open for her. Phyromena turned her gaze onto Melystephira one last time. She raised a gloved hand in goodbye. And then she tucked her long, silky auburn hair under her fur cap and climbed into the carriage.

The team of black horses carried her swiftly out of Melystephira’s sight.

.

Phyromena stood in a dreary dock office conversing with a dark-haired vampire. The office was lit only by an oil lamp in the office’s doorway, and beyond, the dockyard bustled with activity despite it being past midnight. This was the center for undead transport on Ebtag Island, and undead, more often than not, worked by night.

Phyromena seemed to be having little success in her negotiations with the dark-haired vampire.

“I’m afraid I do not recognize you as an agent of her Her Majesty’s, fair mortal.” said the vampire doubtfully.

Phyromena drew herself up impressively. It was a helpful thing that she was six feet tall and towered over the vampire, who was seated behind a desk. “Sir, I assure you, I am acting under the orders of Her Grace, the Skeleton Lady of Harkyn Miri. I need to charter one of your ships.”

“You’re a human,” said the vampire stubbornly. He rose to his feet, but was still shorter than Phyromena. “And perhaps a believer in the undead cause, but still a human. Therefore, you may easily charter a human ship to take you to Evergale Island.”

Phyromena’s liquid blue eyes froze. She leaned across the desk ever so slightly, ever so threateningly. “Do you think I come here demanding an undead transport for the glamour of it? I have many incriminating possessions that I would rather not carry on a human ship, yet they are vital to my mission. A mission, may I stress, that has been ordered by the Skeleton Lady herself! Forgive me if I am harsh with you, sir, but my task is a strenuous one.” the ice in her eyes melted somewhat, and she drew back with a forced breath.

“Forgive me,” Phyromena repeated. “But if you insist on proof, I may be able to find some written correspondence from the Skeleton Lady among my possessions, if you will wait a moment.”

The vampire eyed her warily for a few seconds. Then his black eyes softened somewhat and he nodded. He sat down heavily behind his desk.

Phyromena laid down the sleek black cases of her luggage upon a bench next to the door of the vampire’s gloomy office. She opened one of the smaller cases and rifled through her necromancy guides and banned spellbooks until she found a folder full of letters. She skimmed through them until she found an imperious note written on thick yellow parchment. The large, spindly font was unmistakably the Skeleton Lady’s handwriting.

Phyromena closed the case and handed the note to the waiting vampire.

He took it wordlessly and read it quickly. He raised one elegant black eyebrow as he handed it back to Phyromena. “I am effectively convinced, Lady Amethystine. I will arrange passage to Evergale for you on one of our finest transport ships immediately. You may leave as soon as tomorrow night, if you wish.”

Phyromena smiled. “That would be most convenient, fair immortal.”

Autumn-Hearted 🍂 Part Three

Blithe winds blow on an autumn day

But beware the monsters who walk this way

The autumn nights are cozy and bright

A warm fireside guarding you from fright

Ripe hay fields where the farmers work

Far from the woodland where the phantoms lurk…

Eternal Rivalry

The brunette child took a step toward the cart.

Nerezza, fear flaring within her, grasped the back of her seat. The wood, though newly sawn, crumpled under her hands. Sharp splinters glanced harmlessly off her unbreakable skin. She opened her mouth, but her scream would not come. She glanced frantically at Sir Karishart, seated beside her. He didn’t move. His pure black eyes stared straight ahead, unseeing. The world was stuck.

Nerezza stood quickly, her eyes snapping back to the little girl approaching her. “Are you doing this?” she demanded. This time, the sound obediently issued from her lips. Yet her voice sounded oddly faint.

The little girl smiled and nodded. “I am indeed. My talents have become finely honed after all these centuries.”

Nerezza slowly descended from the cart. Her motions felt strange against the stillness.

She stopped in front of the child. Really, the resemblance between the two of them astounded her. Every line of Nerezza’s face was mimicked in a rounder, more childlike semblance in the face of the girl.

“It’s been seven hundred years, Nerezza.” stated the girl.

Nerezza tried not to flinch at the sound of that high, cruel voice. “I tried my best. Although I must admit, I’d hoped to survive longer.”

The girl shrugged. “You might have, if you were a Gifted. But you were also so average.”

Nerezza put her hand behind her back. Her fingers fumbled for the pouch on her belt, but the ruffles on her fancy purple riding dress got in the way. “You think so? I evaded you for over half a millennia. Nobody else lasted that long. And I was always your priority target.”

The girl threw back her head and laughed. “Fishing for a final compliment in the face of your demise? Running is hardly a Gift, dear sister.”

Nerezza’s fingers found the pouch. She tore the leather away and felt the cold, heavy little orb roll into her palm. “If you say so, Amaravati. But your talents will not get you what you want.” her words were not true, but she had to keep her sister talking just a little bit longer.

Amaravati narrowed her eyes. “Oh?”

“I don’t have the Vial with me. I entrusted it to someone else.” Nerezza declared. This was false, of course. The Vial was tucked into a hidden compartment on Nerezza’s boot.

But Amaravati seemed to believe her. “You what?” the child shrieked, fury contorting her pretty face. She clenched her small hands into fists and took a step towards Nerezza. “You will tell me where it is!”

Nerezza took a deep breath. And ran.

Nerezza was an immortal. Not only was her youthful body eternal, but many of its once human abilities were enhanced. Including running. She tore through the unmoving world with inhuman speed, her footfall unnaturally loud.

Amaravati emitted a howl of outrage and gave chase.

Nerezza didn’t slow until she entered a forest, half a mile from Karishart’s orchard. She slammed to a halt against a wide-trunked tree. Its great roots shuddered with the impact.

Controlling her breathing, Nerezza opened her palm and lifted the little crystal ball to her face. It pulsed impatiently, angry swirls of red liquid weaving throughout the transparent orb. She tapped it.

Day Buxhöwden’s face appeared inside the milky crystal. She looked at Nerezza with a frown. “Nerezza, what’s going on?” she demanded.

Nerezza could hear Amaravati cresting the nearby hill, stopping briefly, then charging toward the forest, undoubtedly following her scent.

“She’s here.” Nerezza told Day bluntly. “I’m sorry, Day. I think we both knew I couldn’t outrun her forever.” her voice broke in a terrified sob.

Day’s pale blue eyes flashed with shock. Then her face hardened. “Nerezza, where are you?”

“The forest half a mile east of Karishart’s orchard,” Nerezza blurted unthinkingly. She closed her eyes, berating herself. “Day, don’t come to me. Go to Sir Karishart and get him to safety. Amaravati might go after him once she’s killed me. That’s an order, Day.”

Day smiled tightly. “I’m a Buxhöwden, Lady Bestower. I don’t take orders unless I like them.”

And she vanished from the crystal ball.

Nerezza had no time to dwell on Day’s disobedience. A tree crashed loudly to the forest floor, probably knocked over by Amaravati as she entered the forest.

Nerezza allowed her fear to overtake her. The world was moving normally again, and icy evening wind rattled the branches above. Sunset slunk away behind the idyllic hills.

It was going to be a long, deadly game of hide-and-seek.

~

Amaravati, sadistic by nature, like a pretty, demonic little cat, stalked her sister for several hours.

Nerezza was soon feral with terror, and Amaravati reveled in it.

Amaravati was a truly matchless immortal. Fueled by vengeance against her family, a mistress of time-warping, a creature of night.

And what was Nerezza? Amaravati’s older sister, though lovely, was not among the Gifted faction of the immortal order. And she relied upon human bodyguards! Of all ridiculous things she could do. Amaravati curled her lip. She hissed, sharp and clear into the maze of trees. She could smell Nerezza’s fear on the cold night air.

She should probably kill her now. But Amaravati wanted to torment her just a few hours longer…

~

Nerezza felt the cold, rough bark of the tree biting into her back as she pressed against it, completely motionless, barely allowing herself to breath.

But even these shallow breaths were too loud.

“I can hear you.” Amaravati’s voice hissed through the trees.

Nerezza closed her eyes. A stifled sob constricted her chest. She could smell the sweet scent of Amaravati’s calico apple-picking outfit on the lifeless midnight air.

Amaravati’s tiny boots crunched the dead leaves loudly. She stopped behind Nerezza’s hiding place.

Nerezza came to her senses just in time to roll forward, flinging herself away from the tree.

Wood splintered and the tree’s trunk split down the middle. Nocturnal creatures screeched in alarm.

Nerezza, kneeling in the leaves a few feet away, covered her mouth with a shaking hand.

Amaravati extracted her chubby fist from the decimated tree. She flexed her fingers as she slowly turned to face Nerezza.

“Nerezza.” her childlike voice was imbued with unearthly vengeance. High and cruel, it did not suit her.

Nerezza rose to her feet. “Amaravati.” she murmured, mesmerized by her impending doom. Only her immortal sibling could kill her. Where time and mortal methods failed, Amaravati could rip Nerezza’s throat out with her bare hands.

Amaravati smiled, a twisted smile of artificial sweetness and undeserved beauty. “I’m going to kill you now. It’s been a fun game, big sister.”

Nerezza snarled, her fear transforming into anger. “I hate your games, sadist! Don’t think I won’t fight you.”

Amaravati looked taken aback. But only for a moment. Her smug smile soon overtook her surprise. “I think we both know who’s going to win this fight, Nerezza.”

Nerezza didn’t care. She launched herself at her sister like a lynx.

Immortal flesh hit immortal flesh and it rang out like breaking steel.

Nerezza gasped as Amaravati’s tiny fist slammed into her side. She doubled over as pain shot through her torso. Amaravati didn’t hesitate. She lifted Nerezza clean off the ground with one powerful arm and flung her into a tree like a rag doll.

Nerezza cried out, curling into a fetal position. She groaned as Amaravati’s feet swam into view, advancing on her slowly.

“Nerezza!”

Amaravati halted her advance.

Nerezza’s pain became insignificant as a new fear rushed through her heart. Day Buxhöwden, why are you so stubborn? She roared internally, sitting upright with a wrench of her aching muscles.

Amaravati turned to face the newcomer.

Day’s hair glowed with golden pallor in the moonlit forest clearing. Her jaw was set, and she had a long, gleaming knife in each hand. “Get away from the Lady Bestower, rogue.” she growled.

Amaravati seemed surprised and rather entertained. “Bonita Buxhöwden?” she inquired.

“No, I’m her daughter, Day. And I will not let you kill Lady Nerezza.” said Day.

Amaravati shrieked with laughter. “Oh, this is all too familiar. The Buxhöwden line still protects the Lady Bestower? How quaint.” she narrowed her grey eyes, menace glittering through her amusement. “Leave now, child, and I will not harm you.”

Day balanced her blades. “Not a chance.”

Nerezza jumped to her feet, but she wasn’t fast enough.

Day charged Amaravati, her twin knives aimed for the immortal girl’s heart.

Amaravati merely uprooted a nearby tree and swung it effortlessly.

It’s trunk caught Day in the midsection and immediately brought her down. Day fell with a winded gasp of pain, the trunk of the tree effectively pinning her to the ground. Her eyelids fluttered and she lost consciousness.

“No!” wailed Nerezza, starting toward her fallen friend.

But Amaravati was out of patience. She lashed out, striking Nerezza across the cheek.

Nerezza fell. Her hair cascaded over her face, and her weakness and pain kept her down.

Amaravati stalked over to her, hissing in dissatisfaction. “I expected our final showdown to be a bit less pathetic, Nerezza. You’ve disappointed me.”

Nerezza didn’t hear. Her ears rang, and her heart was thudding a slow, measurable beat in her chest. The night air was so cold on her bare arms and neck, it made her skin feel damp. The dead leaves beneath her hands were wet with midnight dew. She exhaled with a puff, watching the leaves fly and dance before her.

One word resonated within her. Autumn.

And suddenly Nerezza wasn’t weak and tired anymore. The earth upon which she lay pulsed gentle, steady strength into her body.

Nerezza rose.

Amaravati, not noticing the change in her sister, made to strike her down again. But Nerezza caught her arm this time.

Amaravati went flying into the dirt, for once in her life overpowered by another. She was far more shocked than injured, and looked up at Nerezza with unconcealed wonder at her unexpected violence.

Nerezza stood facing her, her hair swirling wildly around her bowed head in a powerful wind that seemed to blow only around her.

Amaravati hissed in alarm as Nerezza’s feet lifted off the forest floor, and she rose, hovering like a specter in the sphere of stormy wind. Multicoloured autumn leaves joined the wild dance, entangling with Nerezza’s hair.

Nerezza’s eyes bored into Amaravati’s. “I won’t die tonight, little sister.”

Amaravati shrieked and struggled as thorny vines reared up from the leaf-strewn forest floor, twisting into a barbed cage all around her. She tried to tear the vines away, but withdrew her hand, feeling something akin to fear when she saw blood streaming down her palm.

“How?” the immortal child hissed, disbelieving.

Nerezza held both her hands out, parallel with her hips. She gently descended from the sphere of wind, touching down on the ground once more. She smiled with victorious strength at the trapped Amaravati. “I am a Gifted, dear sister. I did not know it till now, but we are equals. I will no longer run from you in fear now that I have the power to defeat you.”

Amaravati glowered through the thorns. “Will you kill me?”

Nerezza shook her head. “Nay. Where you have defiled the noble Immortal tradition, I will never break my oaths. I will not kill my own sister.” she turned her back, her dark curls falling to her waist. “See you in a century or so.”

Amaravati placed her hands on the vines, panic beginning to gnaw at her. “I can’t break the vines!”

Nerezza shrugged. “They don’t go all the way underneath you. You’ll dig yourself out eventually.”

~

Day Buxhöwden stirred. Nerezza rushed to her side and lifted the tree off her midsection.

“Day! Are you alright?”

Day groaned. “I think my ribs are broken.”

Nerezza lifted her gently into her arms. “I’ll get you to a healer. Just relax.”

Day fluttered her eyes open and peered at Nerezza. “What happened? Where’s Amaravati? Did she leave? Are you alright?” she croaked worriedly.

Nerezza walked slowly so as not to jostle Day in her delicate state. She glanced over her shoulder at the forest clearing where her sister howled and clawed impotently at her cage. She’d get out eventually. But Nerezza would be ready.

“She’s not going to be chasing me for awhile, Day. And we’ll be safe.”

The End.

Autumn-Hearted 🍂 Part Two

A basket on her slender arm

Trotting forth from hay-filled barn

Comes the apple-picking maiden

Down to the trees so apple-laden

A song she hums without a care

Into the pungent autumn air

A song of fresh-baked apple pies

And comfort as the old year dies…

Eternal Flight

The tall, well-dressed woman with the curly chocolate hair sat staring at her reflection in the luminous waters of the pond.

A dragonfly skimmed across the water, causing delicate ripples to mar the woman’s image.

The woman’s eyes drifted from her liquid mirror and followed the flight of the dragonfly until it disappeared into the open sky.

She was so lost in thought that she jumped at the sound of the voice.

“You look nice.” Day Buxhöwden remarked as she strode into the fancy hotel gardens. The large buckles on her riding boots clicked out a rapid rhythm, responding to the beat of her staccato gait.

The curly-haired woman took a deep breath to calm herself. “Thank you, Day. How are you?”

Day shrugged. “Never better. You?” she crossed over to her friend and sat beside her by the pond, crossing her leather-clad legs.

The woman sighed. “Not too well. I can feel her presence more than ever at this time of year.” she gestured to the magnificent landscape of autumn trees beyond the hotel gardens.

Day plucked an orange leaf out of the air as it blew past her face. She tucked it into her platinum blond hair like a flower. “Shame. It’s a beautiful season, autumn.”

Despite her casual demeanor, Day watched her friend with real concern. As her gaze wandered back the pond in distraction, Day grabbed her hand. “Nerezza. Look at me.”

Nerezza obeyed. Her dark grey eyes were unfocused. Day sighed.

“She won’t find you. Remember, you’re only staying here a few days. Then you can head right back off into the sunset.” Day spoke firmly.

Nerezza looked down with a rueful little smile. “Back to running.”

Day laughed bitterly too. “What can I say? You’re good at running.”

“But it’s torture!” Nerezza blurted out suddenly. She leaned close to Day, her eyes wild. “It’s an eternal flight I cannot escape, and it’s an endless struggle to live, yet you cannot live when you’re running. There’s only running. No living. Torture.”

Day recoiled from her friend’s intensity. Her fingers automatically reached for the knife concealed in her jacket.

Then Nerezza blinked. She shook her head as if to clear it. Day’s fingers slipped away from her hidden blade, and she grasped Nerezza’s slouching shoulders to steady her.

“Nerezza, you’re being ridiculous. You’re immortal. You’re going to live forever.” Day said sternly.

“She’s immortal, too.” Nerezza murmured, her head buried in her hands. “And she’s always going to hunt me down.”

“Not on my watch, Nerezza. I’m going to protect you.” Day promised. She stood up abruptly, leaving Nerezza curled beside the pond.

Nerezza looked up at her protector with a weak smile. “Of course. I’m sorry.”

Day Buxhöwden shrugged, regaining her characteristic blasé attitude. “You’re just nervous about being stationary for so long. We’ll leave the day after tomorrow. I’m just going to track down a side bounty or two. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Day extracted the pretty autumn leaf from her flaxen hair. She leaned down and tucked it into Nerezza’s corkscrew locks. “Try to enjoy the landscape. Autumn is a beautiful season. This hotel has a stable. You should go for a ride.”

Nerezza, lucid now, smiled again. “I will. Thank you, Day.”

~

Rich colours stained the world all around. Crimson and gold in the treetops, a dozen shades of brown in the crunchy forest floor.

Nerezza wore a deep purple riding gown and took a plump chestnut mare deep into the valleys and fields and forests of the beautiful farming country.

She didn’t often get the opportunity to visit such a charming place. Usually her connections preferred to dwell in uninviting, often volcanic or uninhabitable realms across the Eighteen Isles. Sir Karishart was a much-needed exception. He was a rich, flamboyant halfblood Draconian merchant who owned extensive orchards in the area. He was known as “the plum millionaire” to his friends. Day Buxhöwden called him “the fruitcake”.

Brisk, chill wind lifted Nerezza’s loose hair off her neck. She shivered with delight. Consulting the open map on her lap, she guided her mare through a narrow valley in the hillside. This should lead her to Sir Karishart’s legendary apple orchards.

Sure enough, Nerezza lifted her gaze to see a truly impressive sight.

Fruit-laden apple trees covered the rolling hillside. Workers surged in a merry bustle among the trees. Dozens of carts carried green, red and yellow apples in bountiful loads down to the sprawling village below. The distant laugher of men, women and children reached Nerezza’s ears.

“Magnificent.” Nerezza murmured. Her acute immortal senses picked up the sweet scent of the apples.

Prodding her pudgy mare into a trot, Nerezza felt more relaxed than she had in several years, as she rode through such peaceful beauty.

She squinted into the crowd of workers as she approached. She laughed in disbelief.

She could see Sir Karishart, driving a cart piled high with golden apples, his rich grey velvet cape spilling over his shoulders, his black hair meticulously smoothed, his puff-sleeved blue tunic making him stand out in all his glorious eccentricity. He held the reins with delicately gloved hands. His workers laughed and milled around him, totally comfortable in his resplendent presence.

Nerezza called out to him, and he turned his head in her direction. He stopped the cart and waved her over excitedly.

“Lady Nerezza, how nice of you to stop by,” he gushed as soon as she was in earshot. “Behold my splendid apple orchard! It’s my greatest pride. The best part of everyone’s autumn around these parts.”

“It’s most impressive.” Nerezza observed. She gave the colourful halfblood a sideways glance. “Is this why?”

Sir Karishart understood her perfectly. “Yes. I want to grow great feats of beauty like this for all time. It’s my destiny.” he locked eyes with Nerezza. Around the whiteless, pupiless pools of black, a light shimmering of green scales highlighted the tops of his cheekbones.

Nerezza inhaled the pungent autumn air, relaxing into her sadle. She blinked her eyes open and looked kindly at Sir Karishart. “A destiny only I can grant you.”

The Draconian halfblood chuckled. “That’s why I’m trying to impress you, Lady Bestower.”

Nerezza averted her gaze with a start of alarm. “Don’t call me that!”

Sir Karishart looked at her quizzically. “I’m sorry. Won’t you ride with me?”

Nerezza dug her fingernails into her palms. The sharp pain brought her to immediately. She nodded graciously to Sir Karishart, smiling as if nothing had happened.

Karishart waved a hand. His workers surged forward to help Nerezza down from her mare and lift her into the apple cart beside Sir Karishart.

Nerezza giggled, charmed, as the cart was pulled along through the orchard. Karishart’s loyal, cheery workers swarmed up and down the ladders, carrying armfuls and basketfuls of ripe fruit. A tall woman lifted her young son above her head, and he squealed in delight, snatching bright red apples from the branches before him. A young girl held a ladder steady as her older brother bounded up it, empty basket in arm.

Sir Karishart plucked a large, ripe emerald apple from a passing basket and handed it to Nerezza. She laughed and bit into the fruit. It was deliciously crisp and tart.

Sir Karishart was telling her something about apple pies in the village bakery, but suddenly Nerezza wasn’t listening anymore.

Her world slowed down until she could track the flight of every leaf whirling past on the fragrant autumn wind. The hundreds of workers around her all but ceased to exist.

Nerezza could feel her heart thudding in her chest. Cold raced up her spine and crawled across her scalp. Without her permission, her eyes were moving towards a group of small girls.

They were sitting on a red checkered picnic blanket beneath one of the apple trees. They all seemed to be around the ages of ten and twelve. Every girl wore matching white calico apple-picking dresses, with pale pink apple blossoms embroidered on the fronts.

Nerezza could neither move nor scream as one of the girls turned to face her. Brown corkscrew curls blew across her youthful, cruel face. Long-lashed grey eyes, identical to Nerezza’s own, were filled with triumph and murderous intent.

Panic rose in Nerezza’s chest. The world still wasn’t moving.

The girl’s voice reached Nerezza’s ears through unmoving lips.

“I’ve found you.”

Autumn-Hearted 🍂 Part One

The leaves are copper, gold and bronze

As trees release their vibrant fronds

Adrift on pumpkin-scented winds

And the air is rich with dying things

And hearts are warmed by tea and spice

A fleeting orange paradise…

Eternal Hunt

The immortal crouched outside the door of the orphanage owner’s office. She pressed her ear to the cold wood, listening.

The voices were too low for her to make anything out.

She growled in frustration. Turning away from the door, she stalked away down the hall.

“Margaret?” a girl’s voice called out.

The immortal stopped. “Yes?”

Lorraine, a pretty young orphan of thirteen with reddish blond hair that hung to her knees, was standing behind her, eyeing her suspiciously. “What were you doing?”

“Nothing, Lorraine. Do excuse me.” the immortal began walking again, completely indifferent.

“You’re strange, Margaret.” Lorraine said softly, also turning away.

The immortal smiled. “Oh, you have no idea, child.”

“Why do you call me child? You cannot be older than ten.” Lorraine looked back at her, bewildered.

The immortal shook her head, causing her curly chocolate hair to brush against her fat rosy cheeks. The cheeks and curls made the immortal extremely pretty, but nowhere near sweet. For beneath her curling lashes shone a pair of dark, vengeful grey eyes that made her older, harsher and unfalteringly cruel.

Without replying to Lorraine, she took off running down the hall. A large glass window let in the daylight at the end of it.

Lorraine whirled around, her eyes wide. “Margaret, what…” she trailed off, horrified.

The immortal took a a flying leap. She felt the glass shattering around her, and then the chill air rushing past her as she fell. She absently registered the sound of Lorraine screaming from the building above.

She landed gracefully, almost catlike, on the grass. She rolled forward and stood up, brushing shards of glass off her orphanage-issued dress. There was not so much as a cut on her invulnerable body.

A single curl of her brunette hair had come out of place and fallen before her eyes. She tucked it behind her ear and set off down the road leading away from the orphanage.

Despite her ten-year-old appearance, she moved like a prowling she-wolf on an eternal hunt. And there was something dark and menacing about her.

She stopped suddenly. She lifted her timelessly youthful face to the open sky. A scent, familiar as her own, drifted on the wind. Her eyes snapped open, manic with joy. A cruel laugh rumbled in her throat.

The immortal child began to jog, her curls bouncing, adrenaline building.

Her eyes glittered in anticipation. Her prey was near. The hunt was back on.

The Citadel Falls: An Excerpt

Jethro pressed himself to the wall of the carrier as a barrage of bullets and magic rained on the metal exterior. A few bolts of deadly red magic and silver bullets flew in through the open doors and burned holes into the wall opposite.

“Brynn!” shrieked Gwendolyn as something thudded heavily onto the floor of the carrier.

Jethro sprung forward, horrified, as Brynn clawed her way into the carrier, covered in blood. He heaved her onto a large crate, pushing her hair out of her face.

Brynn grunted, curling into a fetal position. Blood seeped into her clothes, stemming from numerous wounds across her torso.

“Blast it, Brynn, how many times did they shoot you?” he growled.

“Eleven.” Brynn wheezed.

“I didn’t actually expect you to answer that.”

Gwendolyn glided over, her eyes wide. “Will you be alright, Brynn?” she whispered, wiping some blood off Brynn’s cheek.

Brynn’s breathing began to ease. “I’ll be a bit sore in the morning.” she waved one hand in a dismissive gesture. Already the blood had stopped and colour crept back into her cheeks as her halfblood werewolf body initiated the healing process.

Jethro’s relief was swept away as a chilling scream echoed through the air. His blood slowed in his veins. It came from the Citadel, now engulfed in flames.

Valentina.

“Jethro, no!” Gwendolyn gripped his arm as he made for the carrier door.

“My sister’s still in there!” fear made him savage, and he jerked his arm away sharply. Then he saw the same fear, fear of loss, glittering in Gwendolyn’s pure black eyes. Jethro softened. He touched his fingertips to her cheek and kissed her gently. “I’ll be back.”

He leaped from the carrier. Cold air slapped his face for several seconds. Then searing fire engulfed his surroundings as he landed on the roof of the Citadel’s main tower. The billows of smoke made his eyes water. Coughing violently, he made his way quickly down the pointed roof and swung into the tower itself.

“Valentina!” he shouted. More smoke found its way into his lungs. Covering his mouth and nose with his arm, he advanced into the hellish blaze.

Another scream guided him into the charging tower, a room constructed almost entirely of glass for the sole purpose of charging crystals in the moonlight. Glass crashed as the building’s frame fell to the ravenous flames.

Jethro slowed, hearing something other than the crackling of burning things. Voices, footsteps and a feline hiss.

“We found one!” a triumphant voice yelled.

“The Countess or her brat?” another sounded from further away. Rubble shifted and heavy boots tread the floor of the charging tower. “Well, well, well,” drawled the voice in nauseating tones. “Miss Valentina. Descriptions of your loveliness are truly inadequate. Do you know who I am, m’lady?”

“Keep away from me!” screamed Valentina’s voice.

The feline hiss sounded again, more ferocious this time. There was a gasp and a series of yowls and Valentina shrieked, “Kavalan, no!”

Jethro shouldered his way past the burning rubble blocking the doorway, his sword unsheathed. Two armed men were approaching Valentina, their firearms at the ready. A third man struggled furiously as Kavalan’s lithe white-and-fawn body weaved up his arms. Claw marks gleamed scarlet on his face already.

The two thugs advancing on Valentina turned at Jethro’s intrusion. Before either of them could act, Jethro decapitated one and sunk the hefty blade of his sword into the other’s stomach.

Kavalan screeched as his small body was thrown onto the glass-strewn floor. His emerald eyes glittering, he found his feet and marched over to stand protectively by Valentina’s feet. His pretty pelt was sprayed with blood.

The third man whirled to face Jethro, seething as his eyes passed over the bodies of his comrades. Blood trickled down his cheeks where Kavalan had slashed him. “Atanastov!” he spat, recognition sparkling in his horrifying white eyes. Eyes which had neither pupils nor irises.

Feeling his stomach clenching under that milky, hateful gaze, Jethro pointed his sword at the man’s throat. “Who are you?” he demanded. He reached for Valentina and pulled her behind him.

The man smiled an unnatural smile that contained no goodwill. He possessed such inhumane monstrosity that Jethro wanted nothing more than to grab Valentina and get away from him and his bright white eyes. But a sickening, time-halting sensation made him stay, waiting for an answer he did not want to hear.

“I am Amias. Don’t you remember me?” the man said softly. Beneath the menacing ambiance evoked by his eyes, he seemed somewhat youthful.

Jethro’s blue eyes turned black as a memory flashed into his mind. A memory, once so pleasant, bathed in the bloody light of a nightmare.

Amias, smiling and laughing. His skin tanned, and the blue sky reflected in his hazel-green eyes. His hazel-green eyes.

No.

§

From Untitled upcoming novel by Helen Cryestira Viorel

Proofread and edited by the pudgemuffin kittypet prince baby Francois Chalon, who is also the base character for Kavalan.